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Is digital addiction a problem that affects only Millennials?

In a recent New York Post article that gained a lot of media attention, psychotherapist Nicholas Kardaras said that iPads, smartphones and XBoxes could be defined as “digital heroin.” This new “digital drug” can turn kids into “psychotic junkies” affected by anxiety, depression and aggression. Although these claims may be overly exaggerated, the web is full of stories of families struggling with their kids’ technology addiction, that in some instances it’s so severe that forceful detox is the only solution available. Professor Sherry Turkle from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology even claimed that children affected by this condition may lose their empathy and that their ethics and moral standings are at risk.

Digital addiction is defined as the “extreme or excessive engagement in one or more of a wide variety of digital devices, from cell phones and texting to all the activities available on the Internet.” It includes several forms of compulsion such as compulsive gambling, gaming and stock trading, as well as web surfing and database searching, and may result in financial, social and job-related problems. The brain’s dopaminergic reward system is stimulated by digital activities, leading to a form of addiction that shares many similarities with alcohol and drugs. According to this theory, too much time spent playing video games or simply being hooked to a cell phone, may actually damage some brain areas, shrink gray matter, and even affect long-term intelligence.

How many of these claims are, however, just scaremongering tactics? For example, science already proved that children’s intelligence is not just carved in stone as we thought and the long-term effects of development delays are all but permanent. Thanks to brain plasticity, even if a kid’s mental growth is stunted for a few years, he may still develop his full potential later in life. Intelligence adapts to the environmental requirements, so whenever the demand is higher, there’s still space for cerebral improvement. There are also a lot of modern studies that show how exposure to technology may have positive effects on children’s brain as well.

Adults, on the other hand, seem to be much more addicted than youths to technology. Compared to Generation Z and Millennials for example, all individuals aged 35+ appear to be significantly more distracted by digital devices during meals. Due to work necessities and a more subtle form of technology obsession, people aged 25 to 54 actually spend more time on their phones than teens. Millennials and Generation Z are “digital natives” since they grew up with technologies that are currently part of their everyday life in a much more natural way. Adults, on the other hand, seem to have a much more controversial and complicated relationship even with just their emails. At the end of the day, anyone can get addicted to anything if he’s vulnerable or obsessed enough. Technology is not the issue here, and there’s no need to demonize it if we use it safely and carefully enough.

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